I published the piece below around the 19th or 20th of November 2019. It was automatically sent out to the blog subscribers some of whom contacted me to comment, some posted their feedback on the site itself. Then, one day just like that, the post disappeared and in its place was an older draft unfinished version. What happened is as much your guess as mine and to make matters worse it was the second time in less than 4 months that this happened. WordPress tried to salvage it but like the time before, had absolutely no record of its existence. Strange but true.
Frustrated and demoralised, I decided to just let it be and leave it at that. The weeks that followed since then have marked a continuation of the journey that began back in August 2019, a critical piece of the puzzle that is my life. What started then and continues today, is the uncovering of the effect trauma had on my mind, brain, and body.
I realised that the blog has been part of this uncovering, as I process when I write and putting things out there publicly has helped me allow myself to be vulnerable as well as to receive feedback from others who identify with what I write, who have been or still are travelling their own trauma journey.
I decided to republish the post about my mother so for those who receive this twice, I apologise. Bear with me as I navigate the undesirable yet necessary tech world before me.
The 18th of November was the anniversary of my mother’s suicide.
I had no recollection of the date until I stumbled across an old notepad in which I’d written the date of her passing and the date of my father’s birthday (19th of November).
Some months before, my mother had lost her husband – my father – to a freak sea accident. Clearly, for her, the pain was intolerable. I was five years old when she died, and this was her third and final attempt to end her life.
Finding this date scribbled in the old notepad served to remind me of the season I’m in right now.
A few months ago, I started to become aware of feelings I had suppressed over the years but could no longer hide from. I say ‘suppressed’, but maybe it’s more accurate to describe these feelings as a force that was recognised but disconnected from me. It might be that I was in denial.
There were signs, of course, such as being overprotective of my kids. The truth is, I have lived in constant fear of anything happening to them; that they might be taken from me or they would somehow lose me, their mother. This was a very real fear and it triggered a serious bout of depression in me a few years ago. Living in a continuous, gruelling state of hyper vigilance, I would think of every possibility, at every moment, that could bring them to harm, and it was exhausting. Even sleep meant taking my eye off the ball; leaving them unprotected. So, I slept fitfully, semi-aware of every turn they made in bed because there was every possibility (in my mind) they may suffocate while sleeping.
Clearly, something had to give and ultimately my body protested – leaving me screaming in agony from an old condition called fibromyalgia. This is a condition that can start after serious trauma and my symptoms started after my mother’s death, only it took 17 years to get the diagnosis and I still suffer the effects today, aged 45.
Other ‘milder’ impacts of my mother’s loss include being affected to the point of grief by any movies with orphans in it – Heidi, Annie, Storks, Ballerina – all of which means watching family movies with my kids can be a traumatic experience because I relive the loss and all its carnage as I battle silently with reawakening trauma.
As a child, it was not uncommon for me to get lost in daydreams, pretending my mother would suddenly turn up at school and knock on my classroom door. I also remember the hours I spent hidden in my grandparents’ wardrobe clutching my mother’s handbag and inhaling her smell that remained long after she had gone. I would wear her clothes and shoes and role play being her for hours. My grandparents didn’t protest. They were going through their own ravaging grief of losing their son months before and now their daughter in law.
But on the flip side, this trauma made me a very devoted, hands-on mother who has always been present for her children, helping them to make memories, allowing them to be themselves and offering hugs and kisses at every opportunity. The trauma has also seen my husband and I consciously craft our lives in such a way so as not to have any regrets later on. We will not be absent during our children’s growing years and we will be fully available to protect them and to fight their corner while equipping them with the agency to be themselves. This promise has led to us throwing out the rule book. In short, we will not allow others to tell us how to raise our kids. From sleeping techniques to potty training and schooling, we have done it our way and given them the freedom to grow at their own pace, in their own time, without anyone holding a yard stick against them. In some circles it is called unschooling, free range learning, gentle parenting, self-directed education. Whatever.
Of course, I make tons of mistakes, all the time. I’m absent minded, overloaded, fighting a chronic illness, forgetful, fatigued. I space out and dissociate frequently through my day and momentarily disengage or disconnect while still being aware of my surroundings. It’s almost a superpower, as if I’m there, but not there; detached.
I’ve taken the children for weekends with family members who live hours away only to find we’ve gone on the wrong weekend and we’ve had to drive all the way back again. I’ve taken them to birthday parties at the wrong venue or on the wrong day. I’ve shouted at them and then dropped to my knees apologising. I’ve raged at my husband, vile, frightening, out of control anger. And I’ve been so absorbed in surviving that I’ve not always noticed things. My forgetfulness due to PTSD and fibromyalgia means I don’t remember my children’s first words or accidents or illnesses they’ve suffered. If the memory isn’t written down, it’s gone. As a result, I constantly take pictures to capture as many moments as possible so that if my brain deletes it, I have evidence. The fear of losing the memory triggers anxiety attacks and on and on we go in a vicious unending cycle.
Currently, I’m studying for a counselling qualification at evening class. I’ve waited and waited for the right time, for when I am healed, for when there is more time, money, energy. In the end I realised that I don’t need to be in a perfect situation in order to live, to pursue dreams and to make a difference to others. So, I went for it and enrolled. It has been transformative.
During lessons, we take part in exercises designed to equip us with the skills to counsel others. These exercises have been paramount to my own journey of healing. I never planned it, I never even considered the fact that the course would inadvertently help me, but there you have it. God (or whatever higher power you believe in) knows what we need and when we need it. For me, it’s now. My time has come.
Each week I drive home from the class reflecting on the nugget of a revelation I have gained that evening. Every session brings something new – or rather, old – popping up, like toast waiting to be buttered while warm. And it’s while these memories are warm that I want to address the issues they represent. The realisation that I am still profoundly affected by the loss of my mother is one such prevalent issue.
During one class, I talked about the panic attacks I suffer whenever I’m faced with a child in distress. I spoke of the times I have abandoned my shopping in the middle of supermarkets because I could hear a child crying in a pram or having a meltdown or a tantrum. It’s the sound of distress that causes my panic attacks. Heart palpitations, cold sweats, strangling anxiety and a need to escape all surge through my body within seconds and I simply have to get out. Interestingly, I never named this reaction – a panic attack -because it didn’t fit the movie-like panic attacks I am aware of, hyperventilating and breathing in a paper bag. I don’t get that. I get every nerve in my body fully alert, every muscle, adrenaline, energy, pow. It was my fellow students who put a name to it and led me to an epiphany of what takes place.
Paradoxically, I had never made the connection that this behaviour might be connected to the loss of my mother. I never saw it from that perspective; that I feel what I perceive the child is experiencing, chiefly a need for comfort in their distress and a cuddle. When one of my fellow student counsellors pointed out the connection, the lightbulb came on. I realised that when the distressed child is being comforted by its mother, I don’t have a panic attack. I cope just fine. But when a child is distressed, kicking in their pram, crying to be let out or for attention and the mother ignores the child or shouts at it, I am completely overwhelmed, and I run for my life.
These moments of creeping connection all came to a head when I met a visiting Christian preacher working with a healing ministry a few months ago. She came from the USA, she was free, and many people were testifying to her prophetic insight and healing abilities. Never one to turn down a possibility for healing, I arranged to meet her. We had half an hour, that was all she could afford as her day was packed with others like me, eager for answers, insight, hope.
The preacher knew nothing about me, only my name. We sat down together, and she asked me to give her five minutes to pray. She then unfurled a roll of knowledge about me and my situation and I was so astounded I could hardly breathe. She said God had shown her two particular ages in my life where there was serious trauma and for which I still needed healing. Age 3-4 and age 15-16. As time was of the essence, we focused on me aged 3 to 4 and the loss of my parents. I immediately knew the trauma experienced at both those ages but as I said, we focused on age 3-4.
It was in the months between 3-4 that my father was killed (or disappeared after the accident), and my mother dived into depression. Over those months she made two suicide attempts, one landing her in the Aglantzia mental asylum, outside of Nicosia, Cyprus. An uncle would take me to visit and hold my hand while she stood on the other side of a chicken wire fence. He would say to her “Annette, look at her, look at your child, is she not worth living for?” She would reply that she wasn’t a good enough mother for me, she didn’t deserve me, and I didn’t deserve a mother like her. Despite the fact her third attempt at suicide was when I turned 5, the months between the age 3-4 were probably the most traumatic as I lost my father and was then brutally separated from my mother, often within inches from her yet unable to be held, comforted, reassured. The last memory of her – the only memory of her – is of me finding her dead after her third attempt.
Linda (the healing minister), asked me a question that would reveal the true depth of this open, festering wound in my soul. She took two pillows and placed them in front of me. Pointing at each one she said.
“This is your mum, and this is your dad”. What would you like to say to them?
Ignoring ‘my dad’ I looked at the ‘mum’ colourful striped brushed cotton cushion and without even taking a second to consider or even process the question I blurted
“Why did you do it? Was I not worth living for?”
And with that I broke down. It was time.
It was time to recognise the pain I still felt – the rejection, the sense of abandonment and what it has meant throughout the decades of my life – and it was time to let that pain go. That question allowed me to fully see patterns in my behaviour that were borne from a place of insecurity, fear, abandonment and hurt.
Since then, I have welcomed every opportunity to allow the healing process to take place. And it is taking place. In the past, I would shut the process down, prioritising my duty to my marriage, my kids, the debts and all of life’s demands and expectations of me. Now I am openly allowing my healing to happen.
I mocked myself when I told my husband that here I was, 45 years old and aching for my mother. He looked at me with calm, serious eyes and said, “What does age have to do with it? Loss is loss.” He is right. There is no shame.
We need to open our hearts and receive that which will clean out the wound, disinfect it, pour medicine into it and allow it to heal, leaving a clean scar. The scar will then be a constant reminder of what was, but without the pus, the stink of death or the rotting flesh. All what will remain will be the result of the process, grace, love, acceptance, presence and healing.
This is the way to arrive at peace, a reclaiming of our identity and a certainty in who we are and our worth. Lessons are learned and our hearts are shaped softer, healthier and ready to extend the lessons to others who like me, like you, like us, have been wounded and are in need of healing and restoration.
So, with that, I mark this anniversary as a turning point; a new chapter. I am walking into new territory, carving a new path in my story; expanding my heart, allowing me to feel, to heal, to understand, to remember and celebrate what was, without collapsing under the weight of ‘what could have been’, clearing the way of what is to come.
I choose to forgive my mother and to love her knowing she had her reasons and she loved me. I choose to respect her journey and her battle without judgement or bitterness. I choose to forgive myself for feeling not good enough to live for and as a consequence, not good enough as a mother to my own children. I choose to make my choices and allow myself the grace to make mistakes. I choose to live free from the fear that controlled me. I choose to love unconditionally no matter what. We all have a choice. I choose to turn those wounds into lessons that bring forth wisdom.
I step forward in my quest for more answers and deeper understanding, my vessel is love, courage, vulnerability and gratitude. My torch is hope.